HR Law 101: If your organization becomes the target of a union-organizing effort, keep your head. Some activities can spell disaster. Both the NLRA and the Taft-Hartley Act prohibit employers from discriminating against employees for participating in union activities ...
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Q. One of our employees, who has diabetes, is on the road a lot tending to patients in their homes. We’ve heard that she is having trouble seeing patient charts and difficulty pricking patients’ fingers for tests. What should we do? —M.J., New Jersey
Q. We employ sales and service reps who travel and service stores around the country. They work from their home offices, use their own cars and communicate with us via phone. We classify them as exempt. Is this correct? (Most reps are required to spend at least eight hours at each location. Some drive three hours or longer to get to each store. We encourage overnight stays under these circumstances.) —L.C., Oklahoma
Q. We need to change our severance policy, mostly due to declining business conditions. Can we reduce the severance amounts cited in employment agreements with certain staff as long as we notify them of the change? —J.C., Illinois
Q. One of our managers resigned a month ago, but she applied for FMLA leave a day before her resignation. Are we under any obligation to return her to a position she resigned from? Are we obligated to offer her a job when FMLA expires? —T.K., Massachusetts
Q. If we let some employees in a department return to work in a light-duty capacity, can we deny other employees that same option? We need to do this because the department no longer can operate properly with half its staff on medical leave or limited to light duty due to medical conditions. The union contract says that when an employee is eligible for medical leave, six months must pass before we may terminate the employee. —D.W., Illinois
Q. In the December 2000 issue, you discussed the topic of employees with body odor. We also have a staff member with body odor so bad that other staff members have complained and even threatened to leave the agency. The employee has been disciplined several times and required to go home without pay until she agrees to comply with the dress code. At what point can we legally terminate her? —A.S., Michigan
Q. We don't ask applicants for their age or birth date on our application. But we plan to start conducting background checks on applicants whom we're seriously considering. The company that will conduct the checks for us said the birth date is on all the applications they see and that it's instrumental to conducting the checks. What should we do? —V.T., Wyoming
Q. An employee in our plant was directed by a replacement line supervisor to use a machine that he wasn't trained to operate. The employee stuck his hand into the machine to clear a jam and was injured. The plant supervisor fired the employee while he was still in the hospital for operating machinery he hadn't been trained on. Does the employee have a right to sue us if he was actually ordered by the line supervisor to do this job? —K.C.
Q. Can I ask employees who are already with the company to execute noncompete agreements? —L.T., Georgia